Brenda Macdonald walks into Vito’s Restaurant in Coleman with an oxygen tank in hand and barely able to speak from walking a few steps. After introductions I discover that she is a mother of five with a teen still at home. Julie leans over to say Brenda doesn’t have a support system as both parents are deceased as is her only sibling and three of her older children live on opposite coasts.
Brenda grew up in Fernie. Her father, Doug Macdonald was a Hydro manager. Her mother passed away in 1991 at age 51, her dad 63 in 1998 from the same pulmonary illness affecting Brenda. Her sister committed suicide five years ago at age 47. Clearly this woman is no stranger to personal heartache. “I couldn’t wait to meet her, I am very grateful for what she is doing, this is giving me hope” Brenda says emotionally. Julie responds by saying “I felt like I knew her, being able to do this is like therapy, it’s been good for me”.
Medical challenges are no stranger to my own family. Mom died weeks after her 49th birthday and at 16 our daughter Pina received a kidney transplant from Nick. Last year our daughter Julie was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy, then surgery again, Julie suffered greatly losing all hair with days so sick she could barely speak. At the same time her 13 year old son began to suffer life threatening seizures. This past July as she recuperated from surgery she discovered online that the McPeek family had begun fundraising to help their friend Brenda in need of a double lung transplant. “I saw the posting and felt compelled to do something”, Julie says.
Brenda lives in the Crowsnest Pass, diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease several years ago at age 50 Brenda’s future is bleak. She needs the transplant and although cost of the surgery is covered by Alberta Health Services travel and accommodation to Edmonton are not. Brenda needs six weeks of respiratory and pulmonary rehabilitation to build up strength before the transplant and during waiting time regular appointments are required, After surgery she needs to remain in Edmonton for three to six months as it is essential to be close to hospital in case of rejection which happens often and also to be fairly isolated from the public for risk of life threatening infections. Several pieces of equipment including a spirometer to measure breathing are required as is assistance during this tenuous period. Her husband has been granted approval to take five months off from work without pay however with their youngest child still in school and no money coming in the situation has become very difficult.
Brenda shows us letters from her doctor and from the lung heart transplant team, her doctor states that if someone who is fundraising needs confirmation of her condition they can contact him Dr. P Lee Oveatt. Brenda is at the mercy of the kindness of strangers to help her live and it was because of this situation that she sprang to action determined to help Brenda. Well known to the Calgary Flames as a long-time fan Julie was donated a signed and framed limited edition print of Kipper, the popular Flames goalie. With the support of her husband Paulo, son Paulo Jr. and a devoted following of friends and family she organized a silent auction and began soliciting donations.
On Sept 8, 48 friends and family members congregated at her home to enjoy refreshments and treats and bid on many auction items. Paulo Jr. held his own fundraiser cooking hot dogs and selling them for this cause. For three hours everyone bid on items until everything was sold. Although no one knew Brenda personally they all wanted to help. Everyone was so affected by Julie’s desire to help someone else in the midst of her own health crisis that they donated empty cans, cash and items. Those that couldn’t make the auction from Fernie, Calgary, Vancouver and Brazil made cash donations to the online site set up for Brenda. (Lungs4life@telus.net) Cousin Teresa brought a jar with $188 in pennies for the penny drive, friend Donna brought preserves, baking, a quilt, “she donated in every way”, Lynn gave cash brought wine, took care of the financial work that evening and supported the event as did her sister Pina, Nick, Rosa, Isabel, Heather and all others too numerous to mention. “Through Cancer came a blessing to me, my wanting to help Brenda touched a lot of people, and it was a ripple effect. How can I thank everyone, except to say Thank you”, says Julie.
On Friday Julie, family and friends met in the Pass to greet Brenda and hand her a cheque.( $5,250 in total raised with silent auction, cash and online donations) As mothers we never know if what we teach our children about giving love to others without wanting anything in return ever takes hold. Growing up my mom would often say “Do good and forget it”. Today, I realize that what mom said to me has indeed transferred to my children and that is truly a most wondrous gift to receive. I am proud at the love Julie has displayed and the ripple effect it’s had with others in the family and friends. They displayed unconditional love to someone they didn’t know but most importantly they showed love to my daughter and in coming together love to each other.
To be part of this amazing giving of the heart you can send donations to Brenda at PO box 164 Coleman AB T0K 0M0 or at the CIBC bank in Blairmore.